GARY D. KNIGHT, JR.
HOWARD OTTRIX AND KAHLILAH OTTRIX
THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF NORFOLK Everett A. Martin,
Catherine R. Daugherty for appellant.
Jennifer B. Shupert; Kerriel Bailey, Guardian ad litem for
the minor child (Shupert Chaing; K. Bailey Law, PC, on
brief), for appellee.
Present: Judges Petty, Chafin and Senior Judge Frank Argued
at Norfolk, Virginia.
WILLIAM G. PETTY JUDGE.
Knight, Jr. appeals an order by the circuit court finding,
upon de novo review of a decision by the Norfolk
Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (JDR court),
that Knight had withheld consent to the adoption of his child
contrary to the best interests of the child. Because we
conclude that the circuit court had no jurisdiction to enter
the order appealed from, we vacate the order.
was born to S.M. (mother) and Knight in November 2005. A
hospital social worker contacted the Norfolk Division of
Social Services (department) because of concerns regarding
mother's interactions with child. A few days after her
birth, the child was removed from mother's custody by the
department because mother had exposed the child to cocaine
in utero. Immediately upon her discharge
from the hospital, the child was placed with Howard and
Kahliliah Ottrix (custodians) who stated they were willing to
care for the child until the mother was stable and could care
for her child. After an emergency removal order, the JDR
court issued a preliminary removal order based on its finding
of abuse and neglect. Two months later, mother and Knight
appeared, each with counsel, for a hearing regarding the
custody of the child. At that time, the JDR court issued a
dispositional order on behalf of the department, which
specified visitation rights for the parents and services they
needed to complete if they wanted to regain custody of their
child. The JDR court reviewed and affirmed the custody
arrangement and parental requirements during December 2006,
when the child was about one year old. In December 2007, the
circuit court granted sole legal and physical custody of the
child to the custodians. Although Knight had attended two
parenting classes and participated in a few supervised visits
with his child, the circuit court found he had failed to
complete the remedial steps ordered by the court. This was
due in part to Knight's arrest and subsequent conviction
for grand larceny. The court ordered that neither mother nor
Knight was to have any visitation.
being released from prison in 2015, Knight sought visitation.
In an order denying visitation, the circuit court noted it
shocked that [the department] would close a case on an infant
who was certainly adoptable without insuring that she had a
permanent placement in her formative years. It [was] only
happenstance that [child] has lived with the [custodians] in
what appears to be a wholesome environment without the
intervention of her biological parents. Indeed, had [the
department] followed through with permanent placement, i.e.,
adoption planning, [child] would not now be suffering the
inevitable stress she bears incident to this litigation.
2017, the custodians filed a petition asking the JDR court to
accept mother's and Knight's consent to adoption of
the child by the custodians. The custodians asked that, in
the alternative, the JDR court find that consent was being
withheld contrary to the interest of the child and was
therefore not required for the adoption. After a hearing at
which mother and Knight were represented by counsel, both
parents refused consent to the adoption. The JDR court then
found that mother and Knight each were withholding consent to
the adoption contrary to the child's best
appealed the JDR court's ruling to the circuit court. By
order dated February 15, 2018, and after a de novo
review, the circuit court agreed with the JDR court's
finding that Knight was withholding consent contrary to the
best interests of the child. Knight now appeals to this
matter jurisdiction is a threshold question. It is a question
of law we review de novo."Parrish v.
Fannie Mae, 292 Va. 44, 49, 787 S.E.2d 116, 120 (2016)
(citation omitted). "In deciding questions of subject
matter jurisdiction, we are not limited to the arguments
raised by the parties." Id. (quoting
Morrison v. Bestler, 239 Va. 166, 169-70, 387 S.E.2d
753, 755 (1990)). It is well-established that courts may
raise questions of subject ...